House of D

Posted on March 17, 2005 at 3:37 pm

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Some strong language for a PG-13
Alcohol/ Drugs: Character chain-smokes, abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs, reference to marijuana,
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death of parent, tense and scary scenes
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

Engaging characters and evocative period detail cannot overcome the uh-oh factors that ultimately overwhelm this coming-of-age story set in the 1970’s and written and directed by actor David Duchovney.

Movies that start with voice-overs as adults recall the year when everything changed are one uh-oh factor, especially if we find out right from the beginning that our narrator wanted to become a writer or an artist. Sometimes films that begin that way work very well, but more often they are self-indulgent. A more reliable red flag is either a minority or a disabled person who shares wisdom with the main character and passes on life lessons. This film has both, with Erykah Badu as an angry prisoner in solitary confinement and Robin Williams with big fake teeth as a janitor/deliveryman who is called, in the language of the era it depicts, “retarded.” As with many first films, it is cluttered and overly plotted and at the same time too much is too easily resolved. As worthy and sincere an effort as it is, it would take a much better script to overcome all of that.

This is the story of Tommy (Anton Yelchin), about to turn 13. He is still mourning the loss of his father from cancer and making clumsy efforts to comfort his mother, a nurse (Tea Leoni). His best friend is Pappass (Williams), the school’s assistant janitor. They deliver food for the local market, which gives them a chance to explore and laugh at the world together — and to save money together for what they both think is the coolest item on earth, a beautiful green bicycle.

But, this is one of those “Puff the Magic Dragon” movies, and Tommy/Little Jackie Paper is going to have to come of age by beginning to outgrow his friend. That means girls, one in particular, but it also means growing into a greater understanding of the complexity of people and their differences and motivations. He catches the attention of a woman in the local jail (they call it the “House of D” for “detention”) and she gives him advice on getting close to the girl he likes. It works, and Papass is anxious and angry at being left behind. He makes a bad mistake and Thomas feels responsible, with tragic results.

Parents should know that the film has very strong language for a PG-13, including middle-school insults concerning physical developments during puberty. The young characters have the preoccupation with sex that is typical of that age. There is some kissing and a tender, apparently non-sexual long hug while lying down. Some of the residents of the “House of D” are prostitutes and one says she murdered someone. A character chain-smokes, another abuses alcohol, another asks for marijuana, and another overdoses on prescription pills. There are tense and disturbing confrontations and a character removes someone from life support.

Families who see this movie should talk about who Thomas could have talked to about his problems, either at the time or after he grew up and about why he thought it was impossible. How did his inability to tell the truth about himself affect his relationship with his wife and son? Why was the Lady’s advice important to him? Do you agree with the decision Thomas made about Pappass?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Charly, with an Oscar-winning performance by Cliff Robertson, and an underrated gem, The Reivers, with Steve McQueen, based on a novella by William Faulkner.

Related Tags:

 

Movies

Beauty Shop

Posted on March 15, 2005 at 8:35 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language for a PG-13 including discussion of the n-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: References to drugs
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, some mildly anti-gay humor
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

This film is less a movie than a brand extension. Speaking of which, it is as synthetic as cut-rate hair extensions and as obvious as its intrusive product placements. Beauty Shop is more deal than delight.

It’s 3/4 remake, a sort of Barbershop 2.0, with Queen Latifah replacing Ice Cube, Alicia Silverstone as Troy Garrity, and Alfre Woodard as Cedric the Entertainer.

Queen Latifah plays Gina, a single mom who walks out of her job working for the Man, the supercilious Jorge (Kevin Bacon, clearly relishing the chance to go completely over-the-top) so she can start her own beauty shop. She brings along sweet Lynn (Silverstone) for a bit of reverse-racism humor and takes on irascible Miss Josephine (Woodard) for those “No! She did not just say that!” moments. Keshia Knight Pulliam, once little Rudy on “The Cosby Show,” is all grown up as Darnelle, Gina’s relative who has to learn that a job is more rewarding than getting bling from dates. And once again the future of the shop is on the line, there is an ex-con (Bryce Wilson as James) to raise questions about, but most of all, once again this is not about the characters or story; it’s just a chance to listen in on some outrageously spicy conversations.

The script has a second-hand feeling and what plot there is seems like an afterthought, awkward and inconsistent. There’s a completely unecessary big fuss over a possible sale of Gina’s special conditioner to Cover Girl that is just abandoned when it is no longer convenient. It’s no coincidence that Cover Girl, whose name evokes rapture whenever it is mentioned on screen, happens to be the company for which producer/star Queen Latifah has a side job as spokesmodel. Gina’s daughter is a gifted classical musician who is not afraid to show her respect for classical “dead while male” composers. And yet it is portrayed as something of a triumph at her recital when she makes a last-minute substitution of some jazz from a black composer.

What the movie has going for it is attractive performers who make it work much better than it should, especially the wonderfully warm and appealing Queen Latifah herself and certified dreamboat Djimon Hounsou as the electrician who lives upstairs. Silverstone and Andie MacDowell and Mena Suvari as Gina’s customers do their best but are never able to make their one-note roles rise above the weaknesses of the screenplay.

In other words, it’s time for this series to get a makeover.

Parents should know that this movie has some very explicit and raunchy material for a PG-13 including a detailed discussion of bikini waxes, conversation about breast implants and sex toys, a reference to a “pimp hat,” speculation about whether a character is gay, and some earthy and vivid sexual references (“a freak in the bedroom,” references to mishappen genitalia and sex toys). Strengths of the movie include its portrayal of strong, loyal, and independent women and minorities and its frank exploration of racism by both blacks and whites and its depiction of inter-racial relationships.

Families who see this movie should talk about why some of the white and black characters are resistant to becoming friends with each other and why others are not. What lessons does Gina teach Willie and Darnelle?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original Barbershop and other movies with similar settings, including the comedy-drama Steel Magnolias, The Big Tease and the Indian Everybody Says I’m Fine. There are also some very spicy beauty shop scenes in Deliver Us from Eva. Every family should learn about pioneering entrepreneur and philanthropist Madame C.J. Walker. There are excellent biographies written by her great-great grand-daughter, A’Lelia Bundles, one for adults and one for children. And dvery family should read the poetry of Maya Angelou, including one of the poems quoted in this movie, Still I Rise. And every family should listen to the magnificent song Joe plays, “Knocks Me Off My Feet” by Stevie Wonder.

Related Tags:

 

Movies

Guess Who

Posted on March 15, 2005 at 7:12 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, including drinking in response to stress, characters get tipsy
Violence/ Scariness: Comic scuffle
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

Karl Marx once wrote that “history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” That must be how the earnest drama Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner got remade as this silly comedy.

Nearly 40 years ago, the original version was a serious drama, a little heavy-handed, but endearingly sincere. It was considered a provocative, even daring, statement about what we used to call “civil rights” issues.

But times have changed, and this film is generic slapstick rather than social commentary, closer to a remake of Meet the Parents than it is to its purported original source. Its truer source is Abie’s Irish Rose, the popular Broadway play of the 1920’s about an Irish Catholic girl and her Jewish boyfriend and the zillion romantic comedy culture-clash copy-cats ever since, from “Bridget Loves Bernie” to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. That may be good news as a reflection of how far we have come as a society; it’s not such good news for movie-goers looking for something worth watching.

In the original Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, directed by Big Issue-friendly director Stanley Kramer, the beloved only daughter of a passionately liberal white San Francisco couple brings home a man she has just met and plans to marry almost immediately. He is a widower, he is older, and he is black. He is also a doctor with a brilliant record of international humanitarian works and, played by Sidney Poitier, he is just about perfect.

The focus of the movie is the way the couple, reform-minded newspaper editor Spencer Tracy (in his last role) and feisty art gallery owner Katharine Hepburn have to confront the concrete consequences of their heartfelt but abstract liberalism.

And it turns out that some of the black characters (referred to in the movie as “Negro” or “colored” — this was quite a while ago) are not very happy about the impending nuptials, either. The mothers of the couple are on the side of love and optimism, but both fathers oppose the marriage on the grounds that society will just make it too hard for them. After a lot of intense conversation, Tracy’s character concludes that, “You’re two wonderful people who happened to fall in love and happen to have a pigmentation problem.” Love will conquer all.

This very loose remake directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan (Barbershop 2: Back in Business) reverses the situation. Now it’s the white boyfriend (co-producer Ashton Kutcher) who describes himself as “pigment-challenged” and who must get the approval of the black girl’s father (co-producer Bernie Mac). It’s all just an excuse for a series of silly situations and conflicts as Simon lies to Percy about his participation in sports and Percy lies to a co-worker, describing Simon as a basketball-playing graduate of Howard University who knows Bill Cosby and Jesse Jackson. There are also some other half-hearted attempts at plot developments that are around long enough to be annoying but not long enough to get resolved. Percy takes Simon to race go-carts and Simon tries to keep everyone from finding out that he quit his job. And Percy decides to sleep in the back-breaking fold-out bed with Simom to make sure there’s no hanky-panky going on with his daughter. But you know they’ll find an Ebony-and-Ivory bond by the big party at the end.

No one does choleric better than Bernie Mac and it is always fun to see him get steamed. Kutcher manages to stay out of Mac’s way (and his own) and Zoe Saldana (The Terminal, Drumline) shows warmth and sweetness as Theresa. Kellee Stewart as Theresa’s sister gets to show more sass and sparkle, especially when she explains how Theresa’s relationship with Simon improved her own life. The movie would have been much more fun if she had been the fiancee, and perhaps if we got a look at Simon’s family as well. Instead, we get unfunny scenes with Mac and Kutcher (they get tipsy and dance together!) and at an all-women party (they get tipsy and trash men!). And the prospect of a “Meet Simon’s Family” sequel.

Parents should know that the movie has some sexual humor, including jokes about masturbation, cross-dressing, and gays. A character asks “What’s the sex like?” and there is some discussion of what white men’s sex organs look like. There is humor about racism, including a list of racist terms for white people. A great deal is made of the fact that Simon and Percy share a bed (as a way of making sure that Simon and Theresa don’t sleep together) and end up cuddling.

Families who see this movie should see if anyone can remember a time when it was actually illegal in some states for people of different races to get married. Every family should read the Supreme Court decision that invalidated those laws as unconstitutional. It is shocking today to realize that the laws were in place until that decision was issued in 1967, the same year as the original Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The very-apt name of the landmark case is Loving v. Virginia. There is a movie about the real-life couple behind the court case, Mr. and Mrs. Loving, starring Timothy Hutton and Lela Rochon. Families who see this movie should talk about the jokes Simon told. Which made fun of white people and which made fun of black people? They should also talk about their own family reactions to marriages that cross racial, religious, or other kinds of lines.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Father of the Bride.

Related Tags:

 

Movies

D.E.B.S.

Posted on March 12, 2005 at 6:29 pm

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic, action-style spy story violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

Four top spies are staking out a meeting between a ruthless Russian assassin and the world’s most notorious international criminal mastermind. One of the spies redirects the sound equipment to eavesdrop on the conversation of a fellow spy who is breaking up with her boyfriend. The she peers down at the targets and says, “I have that sweater, but in taupe!”

Yes, in this movie the good guys and the bad guys in this movie are all girls, and when I say girls, I mean knee socks and tiny plaid skirts and consulting about boyfriends while ducking grenades, tucking guns into chic little backpacks, and lip-synching love songs pretending a broomstick is a microphone.

This is Josie and the Pussycats crossed with Charlie’s Angels, Agent Cody Banks, Get Smart and Saturday morning cartoons. Except with lesbians.

It turns out that the SATs have a special extra test embedded within, a test to find those high school seniors most skilled at lying, cheating and killing. Those girls (apparently no boys qualify) are recruited into the top-secret spy school, D.E.B.S. The four top students are after notorious super-criminal Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster). But when Amy (Sara Foster), who achieved the only perfect score in history, confronts her, the confrontation is complicated by some undeniable romantic attraction.

“Why is it I can hold the whole world hostage but I’m scared to go on one stupid blind date?” Diamond asks her sidekick. “Because love is harder than crime. Now go knock ’em dead. But not really.”

This now makes the third bad movie in a row for the delightfully talented Meagan Good and the second for Foster. The talents of the magnificent Holland Taylor and Michael Clarke Duncan are also woefully underused. This could be a cute short film (as it originally was). It runs out of steam and ideas after about 20 minutes and that’s giving it an additional 10 minutes’ grace just because the girls are so fetching in a Britney Spears “Hit Me Baby One More Time” era sort of way.

Parents should know that the movie has some mature material for a PG-13 including same-sex sexual encounters (nothing more explicit than kissing) and action-style violence (no one hurt). Characters drink and smoke and use some strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about the kinds of movies it parodies.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Saved! and But I’m a Cheerleader!, both with mature material, and spy spoofs like Our Man Flint and Top Secret.

Related Tags:

 

Movies

The Upside of Anger

Posted on March 11, 2005 at 7:55 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters smoke and abuse alcohol, teens smoke marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations, some hitting
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

Parents should know that this movie has central characters who abuse alcohol as a way of coping with — actually as a way of not coping with — their problems. They also smoke, use frequent bad language, and behave in an irresponsible manner. The movie includes teen drug use and a sexual relationship between a teenager and a much older man. A strength of the movie is its sympathetic portrayal of a gay character.

Families who

Related Tags:

 

Movies
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2019, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik